Shadow Government

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Where Gates should look for serious savings

Secretary Gates announced yesterday his intention to close Joint Forces Command and two civilian defense components, the Business Transformation Agency, and the Network Information Integration. He is to be commended for cutting overhead in his department as part of a broader spending reduction. But the combined effects of yesterday’s announcement are minuscule. Substantively, JFCOM is ...

JACQUES COLLET/AFP/Getty Images
JACQUES COLLET/AFP/Getty Images
JACQUES COLLET/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary Gates announced yesterday his intention to close Joint Forces Command and two civilian defense components, the Business Transformation Agency, and the Network Information Integration. He is to be commended for cutting overhead in his department as part of a broader spending reduction. But the combined effects of yesterday's announcement are minuscule.

Substantively, JFCOM is responsible for training joint forces and encouraging innovation. They undertake studies of lessons from operations to identify better ways of fighting. But it has underperformed its mandate. Too often, especially under Secretary Rumsfeld, JFCOM contributed little beyond breathless hand-waving about transformation or pushing concepts of questionable value, such as "effects based operations." And (as in the case of the early Millennium Challenge exercises and the Iraq War lessons learned study) JFCOM was often guilty of pulling its punches. To Secretary Gates's credit, he assigned leaders from the wars to head the command, first General Mattis and now General Odierno, to better align the command with the needs of force as it adapts to the future, not those of the present. But the joint force will survive and even prosper without JFCOM.

Its elimination is not, however, a major cut in overhead. Joint Forces Command has 2,800 military personnel assigned to it, and employs 3,000 civilian contractors. The BTA consists of 350 people, and the NII 200. In addition to these cuts, Secretary Gates proposed eliminating 50 general officer positions and 150 senior civilian slots. But to give some context, the office of the secretary of defense consists of 2,636 direct employees and 2,000 contractors. The secretary has tentatively dipped his toes in the water of reducing overhead; those of us who favor a robust defense should hope he wrings much greater savings out of his department.

Secretary Gates announced yesterday his intention to close Joint Forces Command and two civilian defense components, the Business Transformation Agency, and the Network Information Integration. He is to be commended for cutting overhead in his department as part of a broader spending reduction. But the combined effects of yesterday’s announcement are minuscule.

Substantively, JFCOM is responsible for training joint forces and encouraging innovation. They undertake studies of lessons from operations to identify better ways of fighting. But it has underperformed its mandate. Too often, especially under Secretary Rumsfeld, JFCOM contributed little beyond breathless hand-waving about transformation or pushing concepts of questionable value, such as "effects based operations." And (as in the case of the early Millennium Challenge exercises and the Iraq War lessons learned study) JFCOM was often guilty of pulling its punches. To Secretary Gates’s credit, he assigned leaders from the wars to head the command, first General Mattis and now General Odierno, to better align the command with the needs of force as it adapts to the future, not those of the present. But the joint force will survive and even prosper without JFCOM.

Its elimination is not, however, a major cut in overhead. Joint Forces Command has 2,800 military personnel assigned to it, and employs 3,000 civilian contractors. The BTA consists of 350 people, and the NII 200. In addition to these cuts, Secretary Gates proposed eliminating 50 general officer positions and 150 senior civilian slots. But to give some context, the office of the secretary of defense consists of 2,636 direct employees and 2,000 contractors. The secretary has tentatively dipped his toes in the water of reducing overhead; those of us who favor a robust defense should hope he wrings much greater savings out of his department.

The defense business board (whose recommendations these were taken from) reported last month that DOD spending on overhead is out of control because of inadequate oversight and controls on spending. They cited ballooning staffs at military headquarters of the major commands, which now average more than 10,000 personnel. They also concluded that DOD cannot even identify the true cost of work being performed by contractors.

The board’s recommendations were much more ambitious than Secretary Gates approved. The board advocated Gates initiate a 15 percent reduction in DOD civilian personnel, returning the department to 2003 staffing levels, which could mean as many as 110,000 people off the DOD payroll (according to the American Society of Military Comptrollers). They cautioned that personnel costs, especially medical care, have become unsustainable and need to be reduced.

The DBB study also concluded that 340,000 uniformed military personnel were "performing work that is either ‘not inherently governmental’ or that could be performed by civilians." This emphasizes the value of developing an integrated national security budget that could better apportion work that needs doing to agencies designed to undertake it. Much has migrated to DOD out of incapacity or disinterest in other agencies, and the work will still need doing whether or not it is done by the Defense Department. A programming and budgeting process able to determine where marginal dollars would provide most benefit could help rationalize our national security spending.

In a crafty little dig at congressional reports, Gates announced future reports will include the cost required to produce. One can only wish he had done so with the price tag for the Quadrennial Defense Review, which seems to bear no connection to these, or other, budget cuts he has proposed. Secretary Gates is off to a reasonable start in reducing DOD spending, but he will need to aim much higher in order to genuinely streamline DOD and preserve the muscle and sinew of our defense.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

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